Do you ever watch players like Ricky Rubio and wonder where they get their creativity and flair from? Check out this video of him training at Barcelona and you’ll realise that those amazing passes he throws today aren’t accidents- he practiced those behind the back no look passes from a young age.
Coach Joe Riley spent many years in Spain learning about how the Spanish train their youth and in this interview he’ll share:
- Why he’s never seen a single shell drill in Spain
- How to create players with “flair” or their own identity as opposed to every player playing exactly the same way
- Why should you teach step away 3 point runners and behind the back passes to 13 years old?
- How the coaches in Spain don’t have a set drill book. They create new drills every practice.
- Where to draw inspiration for new drill ideas
Coach Riley spent many years coaching youth basketball at Club Estudiantes in Madrid. Estudiantes developed five of the 12 players who eventually won Spain’s only basketball World Championship in 2006, including Spanish legends Sergio Rodriguez, Carlos Jimenez and Felipe Reyes, cementing their reputation for developing young players.
Coach Riley said the thing that blew his mind when he sat in on their practices was the atmosphere. Instead of “sprint, sprint, sprint” and “you have to do this, you have to do that, it has to be perfect”. There was a lot of freedom, practice was much more relaxed and fun! Coming from the United States’ more “traditional” coaching background where the focus was on drilling in a lot of offensive plays that require perfect execution and high intensity, it was a breath of fresh air.
What Makes the Spanish Practice Structure Special
Does this look like an outline of your practice plan?
- 3 man weave
- 3 v 2 into 2 v 1
- Shell drill
- 5 v 5
He explained his comments from his time observing Club Estudiantes, where instead of building up a skill from basic to advanced progressions, they let players try the drill with a lot of repetitions and then get them to use it in a small sided game. For example, when teaching a crossover, the coach would demonstrate 10 variations of a crossover and have the players pick 3 they like. That way, each player can work on mastering those 3 to build their own unique identity.
This is what a practice would look like:
|1 v 0 Ball Spike. Use any finish you like.||9 minutes|
|3 v 3 SSG use as many ball spikes as possible||9 minutes|
|1 dribble pull up||9 minutes|
|3 v 3 SSG use dribble pull ups||9 minutes|
The first minute of each drill is a demonstration of what the skill looks like followed by 8 minutes of high repetition practice. Coaches observe and give individual feedback after the players have attempted the skill themselves.
Creating a Fun, Relaxed and Encouraging AtmosphereIt's not about the execution but more about decision making.Click To Tweet
When Coach Riley (and likely most of you) think of practice, you probably conjure up these images:
- A high intensity environment with the coach barking out instructions like “sprint, sprint, SPRINT!”
- Everything has to be perfectly executed. Running set plays to perfection multiple times with the exact same two handed perfect pass.
- Every player is executing the same drills and plays the same way.
That’s why Coach Riley was blown away by how different it was in Spain. He observed:
- Avery relaxed, fun and free of judgement atmosphere.
- Players being encouraged to try new and different skills. Every player had their own playing style.
- Coaches were very encouraging. They tended to focus on decision making rather than the execution. Sometimes there was lots of turnovers and balls flying out of bounds but it was encouraged.
Why you should let players try difficult skills and disguise it as fundamental
Behind the back, no look are also fundamentals. If you don’t start at 10, you won’t do it at 35 years old.
First of all, what is a fundamental skill? Surely, a step away 3 point runner is not a fundamental skill for 13 year olds. Yet, this is exactly what they did at Club Estudiantes.
Coach Riley was surprised to see the coaches encouraging full court 1 handed passes off the dribble for 10 year olds. 9 out of 10 of those passes literally flew off the court.
He asked the coach why they were encouraging this and the coach said “In a real game, would you rather have 2 slow but safe passes or 1 risky pass that gets the ball there in one go? By the end of the season, it’ll be there.” Instead of taking multiple perfect passes to set up a fast break, you’ll get a 1 handed cross court pass that sets up the layup instantly. It’s all about balancing risk vs reward in these situations.
Coach Riley poses this question: If you don’t let your players work on their behind the back pass at 10 years old, when will they learn this skill at age 30?
Coaches may say you really can’t practice that skill! But you need it! Every skill has it’s place. If you can’t, you’re going to struggle. Throw a lot at them from a young age and let them pick. – Joe Riley
To him, there are many benefits to teaching all skills as fundamentals:
- If you make every skill, including advanced ones like missing step floaters a fundamental, then your players won’t be so afraid to try it and will assume it’s necessary to their development.
- If you don’t try it at a young age, when will you learn it? Watch the Ricky Rubio clip above and you’ll see him practicing those 1 handed passes at a young age.
- It makes it FUN. Kids will surprise you and love a challenge.
Example: How to teach a attack mentality and giving players the skills required
A lot of turnovers, a lot of mistakes. Perfection is not stressed.
An example of foregoing short term mistakes for long term games is by teaching the attack mentality. At Club Estudiantes they stressed an attack mentality, meaning you attack soon as you catch the ball.
Early in the season, you’ll see a lot of turnovers. It’s only later in the season that you’ll start seeing results. It’s also not enough to talk about having an attack mentality, you have to give players the skills to do this, such as the ball spike pass.
Usually when you come off a cut on the perimeter, players catch the ball and come to a full jump stop, which slows down your speed. The ball spike is a great move that basically means you slap the ball onto the ground as you cut so you can keep moving towards the basket.
How to Develop Creative or Flair in Players
Coach Riley asked one of the coaches if he had a drillbook that he picked drills from. “What is a drillbook?” was the response. The coaches created new drills every practice and no drill was repeated twice. It’s a lot of work but here’s the reasoning:
- In order for your players to be creative, you have to be creative as a coach. Lead by example.
- It makes if fun and interesting for the players.
- No practice is the same. Always new.
- Don’t be afraid of mistakes, if a drill doesn’t work then cut it short and move on.
- There’s always ways to improve. Even if drill is great, you can always make it better.
How to come up with new drills
It’s better to have a mind that is better at creating drills than having a drill book with the most drills.
It’s difficult to generate new drills every practice but it can be done.
As simple as it sounds, Coach Riley says he draws ideas from watching games. That’s both professional Euroleague and amateur youth level games. You can do this too. When you see a skill you like, you can break it down and teach it to your players.
Spanish basketball material is a whole different world so here are 2 resources Coach Riley shared:
Once you’ve identified a skill you want to teach, here are some guidelines for using it in practice:
- Keep it simple. If you’re working on shooting, you don’t need to touch 20 cones and then shoot.
- Don’t need to worry about rotations, the players will figure it out themselves.
- Strip the skill down to a bare minimum.
- Practice a skill, give it lots of repetitions and then have your players try it in a small sided game. There should be no punishments for mistakes.
Sometimes you don’t need to think it through completely. You can be intentionally vague. For example: make 2 teams of 3 players. Drop 2 basketballs on the ground. First team to score wins. Some players will dribble but some players will figure out that passing is faster than dribbling. Let the players think through the problems, they might surprise you.
1 on 1 as great way to teach (Small sided games)
Before coming to Spain, Coach Riley struggled with coaching 1 on 1 so he asked their coaches how do to it. Easy, they said. There are different positions to start a 1 on 1:
- Defender in front
- Defender behind
- Defender on the hip
Start with the defender touching the offensive player. On the coach’s clap, they go live. If it’s too difficult, make the defender hold a ball or put their hands behind their backs.
While teaching 1 on 1, coach the details. For example, with a defender on the hip you want:
- Keep ball as wide as possible
- Push ball as forward as possible
- Stay low
- Sprint to basket
- Extend and reach when finishing.
The Spanish coaches loved using 1 on 1 as a teaching tool and as a result, many of the 10 year olds were very adapt at scoring and had skills to finish under pressure with a finger roll.
Another concept is to build advantages on top of advantages. This means using skill as opposed relying on athleticism. You should read your defender and create an advantage based on their feet positioning and orientation.
At the end of interview Coach Riley told us that he enjoys basketball that is entertaining, fun and exciting. If you want to play that way, you should be training that way.
If you teach everything as a fundamental, kids will think it’s fundamental. If you make it seem advanced, they will be hesitant to use it.
Every skill has a place. Nothing is wrong. Look at decision, not execution.
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